(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. We’ve wrapped up the defense, also profiling the defensive linemen and linebackers, and started the offense with the offensive linemen, tight ends, wide receivers and running backs. This week we focus on quarterbacks, two each day — one from the modern era and one who played pre-1980s.)
No. 5 quarterbacks — Paul Petrino and Bob O’Billovich
Both rare talents on the football field, Paul Petrino and Bob O’Billovich turned outstanding college careers into professions in the coaching world.
Paul Petrino stat sheet
An all-state quarterback under the legendary coach Jim Tuss at Helena Capital, Paul Petrino would really hit his stride under center at Carroll College. A four-year starter for the Fighting Saints, Petrino turned in arguably the best career of any Carroll College football player.
Petrino played for his father, the late Hall-of-Fame coach Bob Petrino Sr., from 1985 to 1989, earning four Frontier Conference championships. Carroll amassed a 36-6 record with Petrino running the option offense, leading to four first-team all-conference selections. He was twice named Kodak all-American and also earned Football Gazette NAIA Division II player of the year. Petrino left Carroll College with 16 program records, including most single-season carries (307) and career carries (943), most points in a season (170) and career (382), as well as most single-season (28) and career (63) touchdowns. His 9,648 total yards of offense rank first in program history.
After his playing days, Petrino joined his father’s staff at Carroll College, serving as an assistant for two seasons, before becoming the receivers, running backs and special teams coach at the University of Idaho. After stops at Utah State, Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Louisville again, the Atlanta Falcons, Arkansas, Illinois and Arkansas again, he was hired as the head coach at the University of Idaho and leads the Vandals in their return to the Big Sky Conference this fall.
Petrino’s older brother, Bobby, a fellow Helena Capital and Carroll College quarterback, is currently the head coach at the University of Louisville.
… on Petrino
Paul Petrino (from 2017): “I was very fortunate to play with a bunch of really great players. We went four years and only lost two games in the regular season and we had a lot of great wins. We beat Central Washington when they were really supposed to whoop up on us in the first round our senior year, that was a lot of fun. I think I carried the ball like 36 times and I could barely get out of bed the next day. That was a great day. Homecoming you always kind of played that game for your dad, so my senior year Homecoming was kind of cool knowing it was the last game playing for my dad. We killed Montana Tech and I got national player of the week, so that was cool for my dad.
“And then the great players that I was fortunate enough to play with – Jon Saunders, Mark Biegler, you could go on and on, Larry Iverson. We had a patched-up (offensive) line, that’s something I’ll always remember. My sophomore year we had a couple of junior college offensive linemen that decided not to come back after the summer. My dad was coaching the O-line, and he moved Jon Saunders from defense to offensive line and he became a great offensive lineman. Kenny Volk was a tight end and we moved him to guard. We had Dave Campbell playing inside, we had Doug Schell, who was a middle linebacker and came over to play guard, and then we ended up leading the country in rushing that year, really with a makeshift, what my dad called ‘the patched-up O-line.’ What they were was a bunch of tough, get-after-it, second-effort kind of guys. There were so many good players that I played with, there was just a lot of good players I was fortunate enough to play with.
“I think they would see a lot (of coaching similarities). Probably my biggest mentors started with Coach Tuss in high school and then definitely my dad and my brother, because I coached for him, too. They would see a little bit of everybody, but mostly my brother and my dad. The way I fly around and my motivation, that’s a lot more like my dad. The way I try to game plan and attack people defensively is more like my brother. I hope they see something of any of them, because they’re all great coaches.”
Bob O’Billovich stat sheet
One of the best all-around athletes in Butte’s history, Bob O’Billovich earned letters in football, basketball and track and field, while also serving as a stellar short stop on the American Legion Baseball program. An all-state basketball player, O’Billovich led Butte High to state championships in 1957 and 1958. That hoops career, paired with his all-state quarterback and defensive back capabilities, led him to the University of Montana in 1959.
O’Billovich starred in three sports — football, basketball and baseball — at UM, earning nine varsity letters, three in each sport, during his career. He was named the most valuable player in basketball his junior year, adding outstanding defensive player honors as a senior. An honorable mention all-Skyline Conference baseball selection and all-conference quarterback and defensive back, O’Billovich started on each side of the football for the Grizzlies. He tied a conference record with 13 career interceptions and collected the outstanding senior athlete award and the coveted Grizzly Cup, given to the best athlete on campus, in 1962. He was also named UM athlete of the decade.
After college, O’Billovich joined the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League, serving as a starting defensive back and back-up quarterback, intercepting 24 career passes from 1963 to 1968. Once his playing days were through, O’Billovich remained in the CFL where he coached for more than two decades, earning coach of the year honors in 1982 and 1987, as well as the Grey Cup championship in 1983. He became only the sixth coach to win 100 CFL games, while also serving time as a general manager, director of player personnel, vice president of football operations and scout.
O’Billovich was inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Montana Football Hall of Fame in 2017. He’s also a member of the Butte Hall of Fame.